In ancient Roman culture, “felicitas” is a condition of divinely inspired productivity, blessedness, or happiness.
Yes, I did just open my post with a line from Wikipedia. This isn’t a damn research paper. Unfortunately, though, the logic behind that starting point is becoming less clear as I write more. I’d best get started before it’s lost completely!
Day one of the clinic was amazing. Sam and William looked better than I have ever seen them look. Felicitas, the clinician, had some very insightful remarks and some fantastic exercises that I can’t wait to try with my horses. Well, maybe not Avery because he’s a climber but definitely with Abs. The woman has a phenomenal eye. She watched a brief warmup and was able to tell exactly what Sam and Will were struggling with and how to work them through it. Through the warmup she was very quiet, and I began to worry. Was this a huge waste? Did Sam pay all this money for no help? My fears were soon allayed when she called them up to discuss a plan. She talked a lot about what she saw and how she wanted to improve the overall picture. She complimented Sam, but not in a loud “I am taking your money so I must be nice” way. I was suddenly ready to be impressed. The attention to detail in both her observations and her plan was quite different from what I have become used to hearing at the school.
As Sam went back to work, Felicitas gave her clear instructions for each exercise. She kept talking Sam through each step until Sam could get the response in Will. She was also very quick with the praise, for both horse and rider. It was rather funny to hear her saying “I know, I know it is hard” to the Will while Sam was working him through the exercises. It was even better because of her German accent. I also felt better about the way I talk to the horses I ride.
Overall I was very impressed with her. I had read articles by and about her, seen pictures and videos of her riding and even watched an interview with her, but seeing her in person and hearing what she had to say about William (and the other horses and riders she worked with) was truly eye-opening. It was very different from what we teach at the school but not in basic principles. The idea was the same: work the horse toward lightness and collection. The route to get there was almost opposite. For the last two years, I have been taught, mostly by Nancy, that you must drive the horse forward at any cost. This taught me, and every other rider at the school, to be very busy. Kicking, whipping, spurring. There is not softness in anything we do there. Sure, we don’t pull on the horses’ faces, but after watching the changes happen in Sam and William, I have a completely new perspective on collection and what it takes to achieve it.
This dissatisfaction with the school and the program being taught there is not new, as I’m sure any continuing readers are aware. I have been critical of the program since day one. Watching Felicitas work with Sam gave me a better understanding of why I was so dissatisfied with the school. There is no finesse or reward to the program. Everything is louder, harder, meaner. Now, don’t get me wrong. I know horses are hard. I know you’ve got to work for what you want. But every once in a while, it’s nice to hear you’re doing something right. And I’m sure the horses feel the same way. They don’t want to be in a constant battle with you. The school teaches that horses are always looking for a fight; they are lazy, angry, spiteful creatures and you must be the boss of them. While I know that is not true, it is very hard to avoid falling into the trap of treating them that way when you are constantly being told to do so. Felicitas’ approach to Will’s “evasions” was much softer. At one point, she even said that she liked to see the problems because it showed that he was trying to figure things out.
Why did I choose that quote about “felicitas”? This trainer, whose name is Felicitas, seemed able to inspire those things in Sam and Will. I found it fitting to tie her name into the positive results she was able to inspire.
As I write this, Sam is watching the video of her session. She has an incredibly serious expression on her face, but it’s hard to tell if that’s due to the concentration required to listen to Felicitas or to focus through the poor filming. Which is not on my head; Rachel had the camera. Tomorrow I will have it, and the filming will be beautiful!
What did I learn today? The ultimate goal may be collection, but the ultimate path should be harmony.